How marxist sociology can crack diversity for adland

Pierre Bordieu’s Forms of Capital outlines three main forms of capital which govern the class divides of western societies. These are Economic capital, Social capital and Cultural capital. A very simplified summary goes as follows:

Economic Capital: What you earn or own.

Social Capital: Who you know.

Cultural Capital: What you know.

It’s no secret that the ad industry has a lot of work to do in order to unlock the mostly untapped pool of creative talent that exists outside of the usual dens of privilege and inheritance. Everyone is trying but progress is slow. A big agency that I used to work for used ‘blind recruitment’, which replaced the CV at interview selection stage with five questions, but many of the people who worked hard on diversity initiatives were dismayed to find that this approach still attracted a disproportionate amount of privately schooled Oxbridgers. I can’t definitively claim that this was because privately educated applicants who go through the UK’s elite institutions are rigorously groomed for these kinds of processes from a young age and are fluent many of the social codes that appeal to their like-minded hirers, but that seems to be the most likely explanation. This is why I would argue that there is a strong need for ad people who build and manage teams to get a deep understanding of the various need states that ‘outsiders’ have.

So this is where the Marxist sociologist, philosopher and essayist Pierre Bordieu’s Forms of Capital thesis comes in. Firstly, it’s essential to understand the economic barriers that prevent potentially brilliant candidates joining and staying in the industry. If we can’t understand that only a certain types of people can afford to live in London as a junior creative we’re potentially shutting out hoardes of talent people. Secondly, we need to make nepotism truly taboo and understand that it’s still widespread in the industry. If we can’t understand that the next great strategic iconoclast might not have an uncle that went to Harrow with the CSO then we’re losing great minds. Thirdly, we need to make sure that we’re not consciously or unconsciously choosing ‘people like us,’ with similar educational backgrounds, accents, mannerisms and tastes. If we can’t understand that there’s a future Business Director who didn’t go to university, we’ll be poorer for it. These are basic points but something we seem to be missing them with our blanket approach to addressing diversity.

There are some notable examples of great practical intiatives. Saatchi & Saatchi have taken the honourable step of increasing entry-level salaries in order to attract those who would normally be put off by having to choose between London rent and food. Grey have followed up their bold renaming to Valenstine & Fatt with a broad and ambitious program which includes a bursary for two socially disadvantaged creatives and a scheme which involves working directly with state primary and secondary schools. The challenge for everyone else is to learn from these initiatives and develop rigorous strategies rather than short-term corporate efficiencies.

What’s required is a set of questions (or ‘points to consider’) that managers need to have in front of them when making personnel decisions which asses how candidates compare in terms of the privileges that they have had up to this point. This can then be compared to the achievements listed on their CV so that a fair assessment can be reached. This way agencies can get a real sense for the grit, perseverance and intelligence that candidates have demonstrated as well as having the opportunity to make their agencies a more representative place.

So why is Forms of Capital a good starting point? Whist I’m not recommending that all agency staffers start loading up their bookshelves with cultural theory tomes by Roland Barthes and Slavoj Zizek- we are busy people who deal in the real world and commercials solutions after all, it would be false to claim that a big part of what we do includes using models of understanding which we can use to evaluate problems and find workable solutions.